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Mapping agro-food consumption groups in the city of Barcelona

1) This is the presentation used at the «Mapping agri-food» working group included in the XXVI ESRS Congress (Aberdeen 2015). This investigation is part of a wider research called «The short consumption circuits in the Network Society era. The ICT role on the commercialization of proximity agricultural food products», focused on the action of agro-food cooperatives in the city of Barcelona. The contents of the presentation, included the visualizations, are made by Ismael Peña-López, Pere Losantos, Enrique Rodríguez, Toni Martín, Francesc Pons and me.

2) Consumption cooperatives are included in the short circuits of commercialization business models. Its definition is controversial because according to the European Leader Observatory, the short circuits of commercialization focus on the number of intermediaries between consumer and producer, but some authors focus on the agroecological approach involving local networks. We will be using Binimelis & Descombes (2010) definition of short circuits of commercialization, which focus on the proximity between producer and consumer, understood in terms of relocation and resocialization strategies, classifying them in specialized shops, consumer cooperatives, consumer cooperatives with a shop, producers and consumers cooperatives, producer cooperatives / collective place sellers, community orchards, catering, sponsorship systems, supermarkets, direct seller at home or consumption groups, direct farm sales and direct market sales. As we mentioned, in this article, we have analysed the consumer cooperatives and consumer cooperatives with shop.

3) Consumption cooperatives, originated in Rochdale, in 1844, arrived in Catalonia in the second half of the nineteenth century. In the 1930s, Barcelona had around fifty consumption cooperatives distributed all over the city (Miró, I. and Garcia, J., 2012). During the Civil War and Franco dictatorship, the unification of cooperatives took them to an insignificant place. By the 1990s, consumption groups emerged again in two waves: at the beginning of the new century and around the 15M Indignados movement, in 2011 (Vivas, 2014).

4) For this article, we have chosen the entire agro-food consumption groups’ population localized until now in the city of Barcelona (54) which is distributed along the different city districts. Each consumption group has been classified according to their different characteristics:

  • Related to their structure and group organization, e.g. non-professionalized groups, organizations with a professionalized staff, etc.
  • Related to their supply chain: some groups offer an open basket, while others agro-food shopping basket is closed.

This new growth of agro-food consumption cooperatives coincides with the emergence of the use of ICTs, which affects the way organizations communicate in the Network Society (Castells, 1997).

In the following slides we are going to present the working progress of this project (around the half of cooperatives have been analysed).

5) Research objectives:

a)   Evaluate the weight of SSE in the performance of each consumption group project, with the hypothesis of a high grade of SSE indicators accomplishment.

b)   Analyse the network between producers and consumers, with the assumption of a strong local short circuit network.

c)    Determinate the role of ICT in the development of this type of business model, with the hypothesis that ICTs contribute in a better network organization among the group consumer members and between consumers and producers.

6) In order to achieve significant results, our study uses a quantitative methodology, such as statistics analysis and geographic information systems; and a qualitative methodology, around semi-structured interviews.
We performed three data analyses:

a) The Social and Solidary Economy items grade of accomplishment of each cooperative.

b) Networks of producers and consumers: their connections and the geographical distance between product origin and the place where it is commercialized

c) The impact of ICTs in the organization of demand and supply.

7) The Social and Solidarity Economy items are classified in three groups. This classification and its evaluation belongs to the Xarxa d’Economia Solidària (Solidarity Economy Network) and it has been included in the semi-structured interviews.

a)   Social Impact

  • Proximity
  • Fair trade
  • Transparency
  • Social Integration
  • Cooperation
  • Participation
  • Ethical Finance

b)   Environmental Impact

  • Ecological Criteria
  • Waste Management
  • Energy Efficiency

c)    Organization and activity

  • Wage Levels
  • Personal and Professional Development
  • Genre equity
  • Internal democracy
  • Free Software

8) The Social and Solidary Items related to Social Impact show, in the Correspondence Analysis (CA) Factor Map, a strong approach to the values of fair trade (taking care about producer matters), participation (assembly and consensus decision making), transparency (most of them throughout assemblies), and, specially, local production (concerned by the freight distances and to be in contact with their suppliers).

9) The Social and Solidary Items related to Environmental Impact display, in the Correspondence Analysis (CA) Factor Map, a good accomplishment, especially around ecological. Indeed, almost the whole activity of the consumption groups is linked to the objective to improve the relation about human activity and the environmental impact.

10) The Social and Solidary Items related to the own groups organization and their work, in the Correspondence Analysis (CA) Factor Map, offer a vision for the internal democracy (assemblies are definitely a key point) and wage levels (a great number of cooperatives have an equal tasks division) as a priority. In case of software, some groups (La Senalla, for example) have their own application so as to avoid to use Google Drive or similar.

11) As we mentioned before, one of the key points is proximity. In this chart we see how short the distance between the suppliers and the final consumers is (the own producers in the majority of cases), especially with the products with more demand: vegetable and fruit. Obviously, some products are impossible to escape from freight distances. Otherwise, some cooperatives avoid these types of products.

12) As we can realize in this chart, the correspondence of the number cooperatives, the type of product and the freight distances gives a good view of the relevance that the consumption cooperatives give to local food.

13) Barcelona Cooperatives & Suppliers Consumption Network analysis allows highlight the groups with more producer connections and the most relevant suppliers. Indeed, the visualization is able to be a tool to improve the cooperation among consumption groups.

14) This Tree Map shows, again, which are the products with more demand and the following one (15) which are the groups with more suppliers interactions.

16) Moreover, throughout the semi-structured interview, we detected two ways about ICT uses. On the one hand, technology is a tool to improve the internal group organization of the supply and the contact with the producer. On the other hand, technology is a tool to spread the activity of group activity and its values.

For the first task, most of the cooperatives use Google Drive and mails but some of them use free software mailing list or, even, creating their own software. While, blogs (wordpress is the most used platform) and Facebook or Twitter profiles are the tools selected to communicate the cooperative activity.

17) Our analyses demonstrate that there exists an actual local network around the agro-food product, with strong nodes made up by producers and consumers with lots of transactional connections.

What is more, agro-food cooperatives have a high performance levels as measured by SEE indicators, like proximity, fair trade, transparency, democratic processes of decision-making, etc. Proximity is one of the key issues of the initiatives analysed. Most of them show special interest in being served by local producers, thus avoiding long freight distances.

On the other hand, ICTs proves to add much value when it comes to the organization of agro-food commercialization, in two directions: providing an instrument to unify the whole demand group and connecting it with the supply of the producers.

Our research provides a new set of tools for the organization and amplification of a model to measure the performance of the short agricultural food consumption circuits based on the relational network and the intensive use of ICTs.

Social network analysis in producers and groups of consumers made visible a wide range of producers. This results suggest that consumer groups goals could be improved by shortening the freight distances or improving social compromise, for instance,  and also by improving competitiveness, reducing the cost or getting better a service, to name a few.

The new cooperative law in Spain (2013) aims at promoting a Cooperative Movement based on big organizations with capacity to export agro-food products. This strategy collides with the model of short circuits of commercialization, which, as we showed in this study, are at the basis of emerging – but quickly growing – consumption groups.

Future investigations could complete our approach by evaluating the social and economic impact of cooperatives, and by comparing their impact with that of the main current model, namely, the agro-food big chain. Based on this, it is likely that the policy maker would face the necessity to approach public policies and reinforce this model based on short circuits of agro-food consumption.

Short paper Research Gate – Academia

Communication. Mapping agro-food consumption groups in the city of Barcelona by Ismael Peña-López
Final ESRS 2015 congress proceedingsproceedings

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